Nancy Pelosi's grip on her position as Speaker of the House grew more tenuous Tuesday after a Democratic congressman joined the ranks of those who said they would not vote for her again as speaker, and another incumbent Democrat suggested she might not even run for speaker in 2011.
The comments themselves do not spell the end for Pelosi's leadership in the House, but they do indicate her hold on the top job may be in question, especially if Democrats maintain only a slim majority in the House after the coming midterm elections.
Even before the Nov. 2 election results are known, at least three incumbent Democrats have said they will definitively oppose Pelosi, and several Democratic challengers have taken the same stance. While that number is small, those votes could make the difference, if Pelosi seeks another term. And at least one congressman says, even that is a big "if."
"From what we're hearing, she's probably not going to run for speaker again," Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-NC, told ABC affiliate WWAY in North Carolina. "And if she does, I'm confident she's going to have opposition, and I look forward to supporting that opposition. We want to have a more moderate type of alternative for leadership, and I'm confident we're gonna have that alternative. You know, when she had opposition before, I voted for her opposition, not for her. And we're expecting her to have opposition this time."
Contrary to what McIntyre said, there has been no official indication from Pelosi's office that she would not seek the speakership again.
Meanwhile, Rep. Mike McMahon, D-NY, told a local newspaper editorial board on Staten Island that the question of voting for Pelosi for speaker, was premature, at best.
"It's hard to answer a hypothetical question when you don't know who the candidates are, you don't know if she's running again," McMahon said, according to the newspaper's website.
Votes Against Pelosi in the House Start to Mount
Rep. Bobby Bright, D-Ala, who has run ads criticizing Pelosi and President Obama, was the first sitting member to say he would not support her as speaker. Three others, including Rep. Jim Marshall in Georgia, Rep. Peter DeFazio in Oregon and Rep. Gene Taylor in Mississippi have said they would prefer to vote for someone else. Several Democratic candidates have also said they would oppose Pelosi.
House members' support for speaker is at the core of the party system in Washington, according to Randall Strahan, a professor of political science at Emory University, who has studied congressional leadership.
"The fundamental act of being a member of a political party in the house is to support your party's candidate for speaker," he said.
More than an indicator of Pelosi's future, Strahan said the lack of support for Pelosi among Democrats in conservative districts shows what voters in those districts think of the California Democrat's legislative accomplishments.
"(It's) the strongest signal those democrats can send that they don't approve of the Obama administration agenda that's been advanced so actively and so effectively as legislation by the Speaker."
Strahan said he has no knowledge of what is going on inside the speaker's office, but he said that if Democrats lose control of the House or even if they lose most of their majority, historical precedent suggests that she would leave her post.
Newt Gingrich, for instance, was elected speaker after the Republican revolution in 1994. But by the midterm elections in 1998, when Republicans lost, rather than gained seats in the House as expected, Gingrich stepped aside, even though his party maintained majority control.
Strahan said there are two main functions of a House speaker: to usher legislation through Congress and to maintain a Congressional majority.
Pelosi, he said, has been wildly successful as a legislator. "She has passed one of the biggest most important pieces of social welfare legislation in history," he said, referring to the health care reform law.
"She's been very successful at advancing the party's legislative agenda in the House, but less successful at building and maintaining the majority, which is the other role of the Speaker," said Strahan.
ABC's Michelle Dubert contributed to this report.